The qualitative findings from an online survey investigating nurses' perceptions of spirituality and spiritual care


  • Wilfred McSherry PhD, RGN, FRCN,

    Professor in Dignity of Care for Older People, Faculty of Health Sciences, Part-time Professor, Corresponding author
    1. School of Nursing and Midwifery, Staffordshire University/The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, Stafford, UK
    2. Haraldsplass Deaconess University College, Bergen, Norway
    • Correspondence: Wilfred McSherry, Professor in Dignity of Care for Older People, Faculty of Health Sciences, Staffordshire University, Room BL 155B, Blackheath Lane, Stafford ST18 0AD, UK. Telephone: +44 (0) 1785 353630.


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  • Steve Jamieson BSc, MSc, RN

    Head of Nursing
    1. Royal College of Nursing, London, UK
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Aims and objectives

To provide an opportunity for members to express their understandings of spirituality and spiritual care.


The role and place of spirituality within nursing have been contested by academics and wider society. One argument posited is supporting patients with their spiritual needs is not the responsibility of nurses. This is despite a clear professional requirement for nurses to achieve competence in the delivery of spiritual care.


The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) conducted an online survey of its membership to ascertain their perceptions of spirituality and spiritual care identifying current practice.


This article presents the findings from the final part of the survey that asked respondents to use a free-text facility to add comments on the subjects of spirituality and spiritual care.


Overall, 4054 RCN members responded, of these 2327 provided additional comments. These comments were analysed using keyword and content/thematic analysis. Five broad themes emerged: (1) theoretical and conceptual understanding of spirituality, (2) fundamental aspects of nursing, (3) notion of integration and integrated care, (4) education and professional development and (5) religious belief and professional practice. Findings suggest that nurses have diverse understandings of spirituality and the majority consider spirituality to be an integral and fundamental element of the nurses' role.


Generally, nurses had a broad, inclusive understanding of spirituality considering this to be ‘universal’. There was some uncertainty and fear surrounding the boundaries between personal belief and professional practice. Respondents advocated formal integration of spirituality within programmes of nurse education.

Relevance to clinical nursing

The concept of spirituality and the provision of spiritual care are now recognised as fundamental aspects of the nurse's role. There is a need for greater clarity between personal and professional boundaries to enable nurses to feel more confident and competent in delivering spiritual care.